LIMESTONE — The country was given another chance Saturday to educate its disadvantaged young people as the Loring Job Corps Center of Innovation was dedicated during an outside ceremony in the warmest weather of the year to date.
Students, teachers and national Job Corps officials gathered in front of Dahlgren Hall, the center’s dining complex, for the dedication ceremony, held about six months after the first students arrived on campus.
The Loring center, once a U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber base, is home to about 400 students housed in former single airmen’s dormitories. About 131 people work at the center, which is operated for the U.S. Department of Labor by Training and Development Corp. of Bucksport.
Saturday’s event was a casual ceremony that included greetings in English, French and Spanish. High temperatures and the fact that Loring Commerce Centre’s open house was held the same day prompted most participants to wear shorts, T-shirts or other hot-weather clothes.
“There is a [friendly and warm] spirit here at this center that touches people when they come to visit,” said John Robinson, DOL deputy assistant secretary to Labor Secretary Alexis Herman, a guest speaker during the dedication ceremony.
Job Corps can be called a “second chance” education,” Robinson said. If a student feels, however, that he or she has failed in a traditional educational setting, Robinson suggested that maybe it was the school that failed the student.
“You’re giving America a second chance to do what it should do for all students,” Robinson said.
Bringing greetings from Herman, Robinson said Job Corps has helped 1.7 million disadvantaged young people at about 110 centers since its inception in 1964.
The dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony was part of an open house at the Job Corps center. Visitors were able to tour the students’ living quarters and dining hall, where many found cool drinks and escaped from the day’s heat. Built during the 1980s, the modern buildings were part of the former base’s $350 million renovation.
During the open house, students participated in several games and other activities on the lawn between the dining hall and dorms. One popular pastime was a karaoke machine, where students sang the lyrics to popular songs as the machine played the music. Others laid blankets on the ground in the sun.
Later in the afternoon, Job Corps students served a barbecue dinner for visitors.
During the ceremony, Mary Silva, the program’s national director, noted that “Job Corps is a wonderful opportunity for our country.”
Coming from Washington, D.C., for the center’s dedication, Silva said the program is special because it enjoys bipartisan support as well as local community involvement.
“Consider this Job Corps Center part of your community,” Silva told those attending.
The national director pointed to Herman’s swearing-in ceremony, during which the labor secretary’s first cousin told how Job Corps had saved his life. Silva said one never knows what the future holds for Job Corps students and how the program will affect them positively.
“There are thousands of young people who need to get focused and have a chance to settle down,” said Silva.
The only member of the state’s congressional delegation to attend the ceremony was U.S. Rep. John E. Baldacci, who recognized the efforts made for the Loring Job Corps program by former U.S. Sens. William S. Cohen and George J. Mitchell.
Baldacci also recognized the efforts of current U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins on behalf of the center. He praised those who had put the center together and the students who chose to attend the Loring program.
“I know that you’ll go far, and you’ll make Maine and the nation proud,” Baldacci said.
Charles Tetro, president of TDC, which operates the Loring and Penobscot Job Corps centers, said the new facility will incorporate innovation and technology into its program. As new teaching methods are developed at Loring, they will be offered to the national program for use at other centers, according to Tetro.
The Loring-based program is moving into the future “before we’re pushed there,” Tetro said. What once was an Air Force installation has become a “contemporary learning institution,” the TDC executive said.
The center’s new director, Sandra Brawders, kept the mood light throughout the ceremony despite the afternoon heat.
“This is so much fun,” said Brawders, as she encouraged the crowd to “loosen up.”
“It’s so nice for it to be warm in Aroostook County,” she said. “Some of us aren’t complaining.”
Sporting shorts and a T-shirt, Brian Hamel, president of the Loring Development Authority of Maine, said the new center’s effect on Aroostook County already is “immeasurable.” The center adds to the “activity” on the installation that closed about three years ago, Hamel said.